Baseball’s 100 Most Important People, Part 8

Continuing from yesterday (, this marks the eighth and final installment of the series, offering biographies of the men ranked from 81 through 100. To revisit the complete list from 1 to 100, go back to the launch of this series:

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People

Alan Schwarz and John Thorn


Livan Hernandez.

Livan Hernandez.

Livan Hernandez, a star member of the world-renowned Cuban National team, defected to the U.S. in 1995. He was not the first Cuban to do so—Rene Arocha and Rey Ordonez had preceded him in the 1990s and Barbaro Garbey had come over in 1980. And he was not the last—his brother Orlando, for example, fled in a ramshackle boat in 1997.

But Livan was the most important. He signed with Florida as a free agent, whereas Arocha and Ordonez had been signed through a lottery, much as Tom Seaver came to the Mets after Atlanta bungled his initial signing. Ariel Prieto was the last notable Cuban defector to expose himself to the amateur draft, back in 1995; ever since Hernandez, the sponsors or agents of defectors from the Cuban National squad have made certain that these top-rank players jumped to a country other than the U.S. before offering their services to U.S. major-league clubs. This made defecting more lucrative and spawned even more defections.

Hernandez cost the Florida Marlins a $2.5 million signing bonus in 1996, when the club was determined to expand its Latin American fan base, but he was worth every penny. After only 30 minor-league games, the durable right-hander established himself as a major leaguer with a nine-game winning streak in 1997. He became an overnight sensation by virtue of his performance in October 1997. He was chosen the Most Valuable Player of the Championship Series after beating Atlanta twice, including an NLCS-record 15 strikeouts in Game 5. Then, in the Marlins’ World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians, Hernandez won two more games and the WS MVP.


Hal Richman.

Hal Richman.

Strat-O-Matic baseball has amused 11-year-old boys for more than 40 years. Few of those know that the game was invented by an 11-year-old boy himself.

Hal Richman, who grew up in New York in the early 1950s, loved playing Ethan Allen’s All-Star Baseball—a simulation game in which players’ performances were determined by spinning discs—but grew frustrated by that game’s not having pitchers involved. Richman invented his own game, which first used a deck of playing cards to randomize the outcome of at-bats. He played the game with friends in summer camp, added strategies such as stolen bases and sacrifice bunts, and later made the probabilities more realistic by using two dice to determine outcomes. After earning an accounting degree at Bucknell University, Richman decided on a nifty name for his game—Strat-O-Matic—and borrowed $3,500 from friends in 1961 to launch the game commercially.

Within three years, the game was a hit. It wound up selling millions of editions and still is in production today with, of course, the inevitable computer edition. For generations of young fans, Strat-O-Matic was one of the favorite connections to the sport, and their main lens into strategy and team-building. The impact of Richman’s game and others like it (APBA, Pursue the Pennant and so on) goes far beyond kids’ basements: In a 2002 Baseball America survey of major-league teams’ front-office executives, 50 percent of them said they played Strat-O-Matic or a similar game as a kid.


Peter Seitz.

Peter Seitz.

Peter Seitz never swung a bat or pitched an inning during a major-league game, yet his impact on Organized Baseball was enormous. As an arbitrator for MLB and the MLBPA, he laid the groundwork for baseball’s current system of free agency.

Andy Messersmith of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dave McNally of the Montreal Expos requested free-agent status after pitching in the 1975 season without signing new contracts. Thus the two challenged the legality of the automatic-renewal clause in the standard contract.

Their appeal was heard by three officials: John Gaherin, who represented the owners; Marvin Miller, the economist who was executive director of the MLBPA; and Seitz, a professional arbitrator from New York who served as an impartial judge.

In a 70-page opinion, Seitz cast the deciding vote that ruled Messersmith and McNally free agents. “It was represented to me,” Seitz said, “that any decision sustaining Messersmith and McNally would have dire results, wreak great harm to the reserve system and do serious damage to the sport of baseball and would encourage many other players to elect and become free agents.

“The panel’s sole duty is to interpret and apply agreements and understandings of the parties. If any of the expressed apprehensions and fears are soundly based, I am confident that the dislocations and damage to the reserve system can be avoided or minimized through good-faith collective bargaining between the parties.” Following his decision, Seitz was immediately fired by baseball’s owners, who called his action detrimental to the game.

Seitz held other important positions as a labor-management arbitrator, including work with the National Basketball Association, New York City and the Defense Department.


Ken Griffey Jr.

Ken Griffey Jr.

Those too young to have seen Willie Mays in his prime could see in Ken Griffey, Jr. the player nearest to Mays in ability. Just 30 years old, and finishing the 1999 season with 398 career home runs, Griffey had already placed himself in elite company. He had led the AL in homers four times, including back-to-back seasons in 1997-98 with 56 homers. He also won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves and made numerous leaping catches in center field to rob opponents of home runs. Elected by experts to the “All Century Team” announced in July 1999, he was then voted by fans as one of the top 25 players of the 20th Century.

Griffey, Jr. was also baseball’s most marketable star, despite playing in a medium-sized market in Seattle. He was the consensus pick to challenge Hank Aaron’s home-run record, and he more than anyone may have saved major-league baseball in the Northwest. And yet, when the opportunity came to exercise his free agency and go home to Cincinnati, where he had grown up watching his father star for the Reds, Junior pulled up stakes. (Griffey, Sr. had finished with the Mariners in 1991, playing 51 games over his last two seasons alongside his son.)

After a 40-home run, 118-RBI debut in the National League, Griffey ran into an incredible string of injuries that reduced him to part-time duty and left many wondering whether he would ever again display the form he had exhibited with Seattle.


Bob Feller, 1937.

Bob Feller, 1937.

He grew up on a farm just west of Des Moines, Iowa, in the small town of Van Meter. Farm chores made him strong, and his father made him a pitcher. According to Feller, his father “made a home plate in the yard, and I’d throw to him over it. He even built me a pitching rubber. When I was 12, we built a ballfield on our farm. We fenced the pasture, put up the chicken wire and the benches and even a little grandstand behind first base. We formed our own team and played other teams from around the community on weekends.” That was the way it was, not so long ago, and Bob Feller stands as a proud symbol of what made baseball America’s game.

In July 1936 the 17-year-old Feller made his debut for Cleveland in an exhibition game, striking out eight St. Louis Cardinals in three innings. From that moment on, he was major-league news. After several relief appearances, he made his first start in mid-August and struck out 15 St. Louis Browns in a 4-1 victory. In September he struck out 17 Philadelphia Athletics, tying the major-league mark and setting a new AL record. Then he went home to finish high school.

In 1941 Feller went 25-13 with 260 strikeouts but missed more than a month of the season. The day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the Navy. While some baseball stars spent the war playing exhibition baseball games to build the troops’ morale, Feller served as a chief specialist on the battleship Alabama, winning five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars.

Feller came back from the war better than ever. He won 26 games for the sixth-place Indians, 10 of them shutouts shutouts, while striking out 346.

Named to the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility, Feller was bothered by his Hall of Fame plaque, which lists his baseball career as spanning “1936 to 1941” and “1945 to 1956” with no explanation. He once suggested to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth that the plaque might be changed to reflect the facts. The commissioner answered that such a change would be “inconvenient.” “Well,” said Feller, “it was inconvenient to get shot at.”


David S. Neft.

David S. Neft.

It’s hard to believe today, with books such as Total Baseball in every baseball fan’s library, but for most of baseball’s first 100 years there was no such thing as a comprehensive book of historical statistics. Then David Neft came along.

The closest thing baseball had was The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, first published in 1951, but that listed only a few statistics per player. Neft, a New York formal statistician working for Information Concepts Incorporated in the 1960s, sold his bosses—and the Macmillan publishing company—on a book that listed more than a dozen statistics for every player, all the way back to 1876. It was a mammoth undertaking, and it changed the course of baseball fandom.

The business of building a credible baseball encyclopedia was amazingly complicated in the 1960s. Computers were only beginning to handle the type of data entry, storage and checking required. Second, baseball’s records, particularly before 1920, were in complete disarray. Players were missing or identified incorrectly. Sources such as old Spalding Guides were notoriously shoddy, and even the official statistics put out by the leagues back then had hundreds of errors. Neft’s team of researchers criss-crossed the country, from library microfilm rooms to long-lost graveyards, to look up old box scores and recreate statistics from 1876-20 virtually from scratch, and to resolve other conflicts.

Finally published in 1969, The Baseball Encyclopedia ran 2,338 pages and weighed six and a half pounds. One New York Times reviewer raved that it was “the book I’d take with me to prison.” It flew through its first printing of 50,000 books and ultimately sold more than 100,000 copies. The book began a new era of fanaticism for baseball statistics and history.

Neft went on to create encyclopedias in other sports, and his Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball has been issued annually for three decades.


John Schuerholz.

John Schuerholz.

No modern general manager has been able to win more often, and in more places, than John Schuerholz. He has been a master at juggling batting lines with bottom lines, and has been able to keep his teams in contention every season for 20 years.

Schuerholz’s job is barely recognizable compared to the one that former GMs such as George Weiss held, before arbitration and free agency, before the media and ownership demands, before the draft and international market, before 29 other clubs and three rounds of playoffs. With that in consideration, some might consider Schuerholz the best general manager in baseball history.

His Braves have won one World Series, five pennants and 12 straight division championships (a professional sports record). In doing so, Schuerholz did have the advantage of a large payroll, but he never lost sight of the player-development aspects of running a club, deftly weaving in top prospects while acquiring established veterans through trades and free agency. As other large-revenue teams such as the Orioles and Dodgers floundered, the Braves kept winning season after season.

Before heading to Atlanta in 1990, Schuerholz ran the Royals, with whom he won the 1985 World Series. He helped build Kansas City into baseball’s model expansion club throughout the ’70s while serving in player development, presiding over a minor-league system that produced the likes of George Brett, Frank White, Dennis Leonard, Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson and Bo Jackson, feeding teams that finished first or second every year from 1975 to 1985.


Minnie Minoso.

Minnie Minoso.

Saturnino Orestes Armas “Minnie” Minoso was the first dark-skinned Latin to play in the U.S. major leagues and an inspiration to generations of Caribbean youth. It is not too much to say that he was the Jackie Robinson for Latin America.

Minoso, who grew up in Cuba’s Matanzas Province, left school at age 14 to work in the sugar fields. In 1946 he signed with Alex Pompez’s New York Cubans for $150 a month plus a boat ticket to Key West and train fare to New York. Cleveland’s Bill Veeck purchased the 25-year old Minoso in 1948 and assigned him to Dayton in the Class A Central League. He made it to Cleveland the next year, but he lasted only nine games.

He returned to the majors as a 28-year-old rookie in 1951, but after eight games with the Indians he was traded to the White Sox. He hit .326 that season and led the league in stolen bases and triples.

In December 1957, after hitting .310 with 103 RBIs, Minoso was traded to Cleveland but in 1960 Veeck reacquired Minoso for the White Sox in a seven-player trade. Minoso responded in 1960 by leading the AL in hits, with 184, and by finishing second to Roger Maris in RBIs. He was 37.

Father Time was catching up with Minoso. He retired in 1964—sort of. On September 11, 1976, Veeck, who was again running the White Sox, reactivated the 53-year-old Minoso so he could become a four-decade major leaguer. For once in his baseball career Minoso was nervous.

“It’s been many years since I face pitching like this,” he said. “I hope [the fans] forgive me.” That day he went hitless against the Angels’ Frank Tanana. But the next afternoon he faced 25-year-old Sid Monge, who had been only 20 days old when Minoso first appeared in the American League. Minnie singled to left.


Harry Caray.

Harry Caray.

When young Harry Carabina decided he wanted to be a baseball announcer, he conned his way into an audition with Merle Jones, owner of KMOX, St. Louis’ largest radio station. After the audition Jones commented, “Your voice has an exciting timbre.” He helped Carabina land his first broadcasting job, in Joliet, Illinois, and the voice of the renamed Harry Caray went on to excite fans for well over half a century.

Caray’s first major-league job was with his hometown Cardinals, and he stayed there for 25 years, from 1945 to 1969, working with four different owners—Sam Breadon, Fred Saigh, Bob Hannegan, and August Busch, who fired him.

He went on to work for Charlie Finley in Oakland, but after one season with the A’s he returned to the Midwest. The Chicago White Sox hired him in 1971 and he stayed on when the team was sold to Bill Veeck in 1976. On Opening Day that year, when the crowd began singing “Take Me out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch, Veeck noticed that Caray was singing along in the broadcasters’ booth.

Without the announcer’s knowledge Veeck had a microphone set up in the booth, and Caray’s raspy singing voice was soon booming throughout the stadium. Confronted by Caray, Veeck explained, “Anybody in the ballpark hearing you sing that song knows he can sing as well as you can. Probably better than you can. So he or she sings along.” From that day on Caray’s enthusiastic rendering of the song was a Chicago tradition, especially on the North Side when he moved to the Cubs for the final years of his career.


Dick Young.

Dick Young.

Dick Young began his career with the New York Daily News as a messenger boy in 1937. After 45 years there he moved to the Post, but he had already changed the style of covering a baseball game forever. In the age of day baseball, the writers for afternoon papers had the players all to themselves after a game. Young, working for a morning paper with multiple editions, hung around the clubhouse to pick up quotes, “like a chipmunk looking for nuts,” in the uncomplimentary phrase that stuck. With these he would not only flesh out his game stories but also pepper his popular and, to the targets of his gibes, enfuriating column, “Young Ideas.”

No beat reporter today would dream of filing a game story without a quote. No baseball writer has ever dipped his pen in vitriol to greater effect. And no baseball writer prior to him would risk utter alienation from the source of future stories, as he did on a habitual basis.

Love him, hate him, you couldn’t ignore him. Even as his readers came increasingly to resent his testiness and his tendency to expound on the decline of society in general, he remained influential to the last.


Scott Boras.

Scott Boras.

No player agents has been more hated by management and vilified by the media than Scott Boras, and no agent has been more effective for his clients.

Boras began his involvement in professional baseball as an infielder/outfielder in the St. Louis organization during the mid-1970s. He never advanced past Class AA, retiring in 1977. In the off-season he pursued a law degree, becoming convinced of the inequity of minor-league contracts. “The deals were unilaterally imposed and the team could get out of them at any time,” he said later. “There was never any negotiation.”

In his new career as an agent, Boras looked to challenge the system. After drawn-out, confrontational negotiations, he secured ever-larger amounts for top picks Andy Benes, Ben McDonald and Brien Taylor, the New York Yankees’ first selection in 1991 who signed for $1.55 million—and never reached the major leagues. Although Boras continually added to his major-league client roster (he won for Kevin Brown baseball’s first nine-figure contract) it was another amateur, Florida State outfielder J.D. Drew, who gained him his greatest notoriety.

In 1996 amateurs Travis Lee and Matt White had escaped the draft through a loophole and commanded deals for over $10 million each; Boras envisioned even bigger numbers for Drew. “When you remove the barrier of the draft, you see what teams are willing to pay for select amateur players,” Boras said.

He warned frugally minded teams not to select his client, but the Philadelphia Phillies called his bluff and tapped Drew with the second overall pick. Drew rejected Philadelphia, demanding $11 million. He spent the season in the independent Northern League, which Boras maintained freed him from the draft. An arbitrator rejected his position, but Drew refused to sign with Philadelphia and went back into the draft. This time, the Cardinals signed him for $8 million.


Frank C. Bancroft.

Frank C. Bancroft.

He never played professional baseball, he managed his last game over a century ago, he won only one pennant, and he’s not in the Hall of Fame. So how does this gent make the list?

In a baseball career that spanned more than 40 years, he led the first professional U.S. team to visit the Caribbean. The one pennant he won was capped by victory in the very first World Series (1884, not 1903). He was talented enough as a manager to be hired by six big-league clubs—and contentious enough to wear out his welcome mat with seven, a record unequaled unless you count Billy Martin playing Judy to George Steinbrenner’s Punch.

Oh, and one last thing. He was the pioneer of platooning, with his 1884 Providence Grays of 1884, and perhaps earlier, with his Detroit Wolverines.

Bancroft first managed during the Civil War, arranging baseball games between Union Army regiments. Later he settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, ran several successful businesses, and in 1878 became manager of New Bedford’s entry in the International Association, the first minor league. After the season he took his team barnstorming to Cuba. Two years later he was at the helm of Worcester when it entered the National League.

His other managerial stops were (in sequence) Detroit, Cleveland, Providence, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. In 1892 he became business manager of the Reds, a post he held until his death in 1921.


Arch Ward.

Arch Ward.

Notre Dame graduate Arch Ward’s first job was as the first sports publicity director his alma mater ever had. After one year there he moved to the Rockford Star to write sports. Five years later he was in the big leagues of sports journalism: sportswriter and, later, sports editor of the Chicago Tribune.

In 1933, Ward hit upon the idea of having a baseball game between stars from both leagues, as a sporting way to tie in to the “Century of Progress” Exposition in Chicago that year. He saw that July 6 was an open date for all major-league clubs, so he began to push the idea in his columns. In addition to promoting the city and the fair, Ward felt it could serve a charitable cause as well: raising funds for the “Professional Ball Players of America.” (He was surely connecting baseball officials to their memory of the 1911 All-Star benefit game on behalf of the family of Cleveland’s Addie Joss.) This was during the cold heart of the Depression, and Ward figured some former players who were financially strapped would benefit. Many owners disliked the idea, and when they finally agreed to it, they firmly stipulated it would be a one-time event.

As history has demonstrated, the concept was a smash from the very beginning. John McGraw came out of retirement to manage the National League. Babe Ruth, even though he was 38 years old, was the star, with both a two-run homer and a critical running catch. Seventeen future Hall of Famers played for the 47,595 fans that came to Comiskey Park. Of the $52,000 raised, $45,000 was donated to former players in need of financial assistance.

In 1934, Ward conjured up another all-star idea: the College All-Stars against the champions of the NFL, an event that ran annually through 1976.


Martin Dihigo.

Martin Dihigo.

Only Martin Dihigo has been elected to the Cuban, Mexican, and United States Baseball Halls of Fame. His speed, size, and strong throwing arm made him one of the most versatile players in baseball history. During his 30-year career Dihigo played every position on the field—sometimes more than one in the same game—and played each of them exceptionally well.

Dihigo was arguably the greatest Cuban ballplayer of all time. Among Cuban-born players, only Cristobal Torriente was considered his peer at the plate. Johnny Mize, who played for a team Dihigo managed in the Dominican Republic winter league in 1943, said Dihigo was the greatest player he’d ever seen. Buck Leonard shared Mize’s opinion: “He could run, hit, throw, think, pitch, and manage.”

Known as “El Maestro” in Mexico and “El Immortal” in Cuba, Dihigo began his U.S. career as an 18-year-old second baseman for the Cuban Stars. After five years he moved on to the Homestead Grays, and had short stints with the Philadelphia Hilldales, the Baltimore Black Sox, and the New York Cubans. Dihigo won three Negro League home run crowns and tied Josh Gibson for another. As a pitcher, he racked up more than 200 wins in American and Mexican ball.

He played sparingly as player-manager for the New York Cubans in 1945 and continued to play and manage in Cuba and Mexico until the early 1950s, when he returned to Cuba to stay. Dihigo served as Cuba’s minister of sports until his death in 1971. In 1977 he became the first Cuban to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.


Roger Kahn.

Roger Kahn.

Brooklyn-born Roger Kahn began covering the Dodgers for the New York Herald Tribune as a kid out of college. Ebbets Field was his graduate school, where he learned about baseball and baseball players, and most enduringly, the boys of summer in their ruin.

In his prolific career as an author of notable sports books, none of his titles stands above The Boys of Summer. Indeed, when Sports Illustrated selected its 100 Greatest Sports Books in 2002, Kahn’s masterpiece ranked #2; only a boxing book stood above it.

Kahn showed a generation of writers that even if they start their careers in the toy department of a newspaper, to use Red Smith’s phrase for the sports department, they can aspire to literature. He showed a generation of fans that as their boyhood heroes grow frail, as they themselves soon will, the road to heroism remains open and wide.

Within half a decade, 1966 to 1972, baseball books grew up, with other monumental accomplishments such as Larry Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times (1966), Harold Seymour’s Baseball: The Golden Age (1971), Roger Angell’s The Summer Game (1972), and, in an altogether different vein, Jim Bouton and Leonard Shecter’s Ball Four (1970). Roger Kahn was in the thick of this golden age and, in a personal golden age that extended into the current century, went on to write such fine books as A Flame of Pure Fire and October Men.

Lefty O'Doul.

Lefty O’Doul.


They called Lefty O’Doul “The Man in the Green Suit” because he was given to wearing a bright green sport jacket day in and day out. They might have also called him the American father of Japanese baseball, the NL batting champion of 1929 (with a .398 average), and “Mr. Pacific Coast League,” because, in his lengthy and varied career, he was all of these things.

O’Doul started out as a pitcher. He was signed by the San Francisco Seals of the PCL in 1917, and pitched a handful of games with the Yankees in 1919 through 1922.Traded to the Red Sox, he ended his pitching career in a blaze of ineptitude, surrendering 13 runs in one inning of work in a 27-3 loss.

Returning to the majors as a 31-year-old outfielder, he hit .319 for the Giants in 1928 but John McGraw didn’t like his fielding and traded him. With the Phillies O’Doul banged out a league-leading .398 average, 32 home run and, in what remains an NL record, 254 hits. He won another batting title in 1932 with the Dodgers.

He is famous as the answer to the trivia question, “Who has the highest batting batting average of any man eligible for the Hall of Fame who isn’t in it?” (He hit .349 over 11 seasons; only Joe Jackson’s .356 is higher.) How good a hitter was he? With Vancouver, at age 59, O’Doul sent himself up as a pinch hitter and walloped a triple. How did he do it? There were two reasons, he said: “The first is clean living, and the second is to bat against a pitcher who’s laughing so hard he can hardly throw the ball.”

Starting with the Seals in 1935 O’Doul began a long career of managing in the Pacific Coast League. He remained with San Francisco until 1951 (serving as vice president of the club from 1948 to 1951), and also managed San Diego, Oakland, Vancouver, and Seattle.

Starting in the early 1930s O’Doul made the first of more than 20 trips to Japan. There he assisted Matsutoro Shoriki in founding the first professional team, which he dubbed the Giants in honor of his last major league club. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, O’Doul returned to the country to help restore baseball and the defeated nation’s morale.

On leaving baseball in 1958, O’Doul founded a popular San Francisco restaurant. It remains a landmark on Geary Street just off Union Square, and they make a heck of a corned-beef sandwich.


Ned Hanlon.

Ned Hanlon.

Though never a strong hitter, Edward Hugh Hanlon was a fine outfielder and, more importantly, a leader. At age 24 he was named captain and found himself leading a team of luminaries when the Detroit Wolverines roared to the world championship in 1887. In 1892 he received an offer to manage the Baltimore Orioles, a team that had been absorbed into the NL when the American Association disbanded after the 1891 season.

The Orioles were awful. They finished 1892 dead last, 541/2 games out of first. Hanlon built a new team by gambling on young, unproven players. In 1893 he acquired third baseman John McGraw, outfielder Joe Kelley, and catcher Wilbert Robinson. The next year he added outfielder Willie Keeler, shortstop Hughie Jennings, and veteran first baseman Dan Brouthers. All six were eventually named to the Hall of Fame. By 1894 Hanlon’s club was fully established, and the Orioles won the pennant for three years running.

Attendance fell off as the Orioles finished second in 1897 and 1898. In 1899 the team merged with Brooklyn, and Hanlon received 10 percent of Brooklyn’s stock. He was now both president of the Orioles and manager of Brooklyn. He shifted most of Baltimore’s best players to Brooklyn, creating a powerhouse that was christened “Hanlon’s Superbas,” after a vaudeville act of the same name. (Hanlon himself had been nicknamed “Ned” after a famous contemporary oarsman named Ned Hanlan.) The Superbas won pennants in 1899 and 1900, giving Hanlon five flags and two second-place finishes in his seven years as a manager.

Hanlon’s greatest legacy is not his string of pennants but the success of the managers he influenced: Joe Kelley, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson, and John McGraw. Hanlon joined his disciples in the Hall of Fame in 1996.


Whitey Herzog.

Whitey Herzog.

Dorrel Norman Elvert “Whitey” Herzog changed the face of managerial strategy in the 1970s and 1980s as he transformed lackluster franchises in Kansas City and St. Louis into AstroTurf-exploiting, speed-dominated division champions and pennant winners. Stolen bases, defense and relief pitching were at the heart of “WhiteyBall.”

His career as a ballplayer was undistinguished and marred by injuries. Having been traded to Baltimore at the start of the 1961 season, he missed Opening Day after being hit in the nose by a ball coming through the back of a batting cage. Herzog was dealt to Detroit in 1962, and in early 1963 he was beset by an ear infection that hastened his retirement.

In 1965 he became a Kansas City coach and lasted until getting into a shouting match with Charlie Finley regarding traveling expenses. The next year he was named a coach for the New York Mets, and later became director of player personnel for the team.

In 1973 Herzog replaced Ted Williams as the Texas Rangers’ manager but couldn’t turn their fortunes around. In July 1975, however, Jack McKeon was fired at Kansas City, and Herzog was offered the managerial post. It was with the Royals that WhiteyBall first took shape, and it paid off with three successive AL West titles, but each time the Royals lost to the Yankees in the Championship Series. After Herzog finished second in 1979, he was gone.

“I thought I did my greatest job of managing that year, and yet I got fired,” said Herzog. “It’s amazing how fast you can get dumb in this game.”

Yet as one door closed, another opened. In June 1980 Herzog was got a job across the state with the Cardinals. The results were a world championship in 1982 and pennants in 1985 and 1987.


Carl Hubbell.

Carl Hubbell.

Carl Hubbell was nicknamed “the Meal Ticket” because that’s what he was to the New York Giants and manager John McGraw during his career. Hubbell earned two Most Valuable Player Awards and over two seasons won 24 games in a row. He is best remembered for the 1934 All-Star Game during which he struck out future Hall of Fame sluggers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin in succession. But what made him important (as opposed to merely a great player) was that with his trademark screwball he showed the baseball world that—even after the 1920 ban on spitballs, emery balls, and other trick pitches that had been dead-ball era staples—a pitcher without much of fastball or curve could still be a star.

Hubbell didn’t throw a screwball in high school, and the rest of his arsenal didn’t interest baseball scouts, but Hubbell refused to give up. Persistence paid off, and he caught on with the Class D Oklahoma State League’s Cushing Refiners. In June 1924 the circuit collapsed, and by season’s end Hubbell was with the Class A Western League’s Oklahoma City Indians. There Hubbell met an older pitcher named Lefty Thomas who worked with him on developing a sinker. As Hubbell tinkered with the new delivery he kept turning his wrist farther and farther over, and as he did he developed an entirely new pitch—the screwball. Christy Mathewson had thrown a “fadeaway,” a changeup with a reverse break, but Hubbell threw his pitch hard—so hard and so often that when his career was done, his left arm turned inward.

The Tigers purchased him at the close of the 1925 season but told him not to throw that crazy pitch. He never threw a pitch of any sort for Detroit despite three years in their system.

Hubbell was about ready to quit baseball when scout Dick Kinsella routed him to John McGraw’s Giants. There he registered five consecutive 20-game seasons, amid a myriad of other feats.


Mel Allen.

Mel Allen.

The single most recognizable—and likable—voice in the history of baseball broadcasting may well have been that of Mel Allen. Although his broadcasting career included stints covering football and other sports, his many years of broadcasting the Yankees, the World Series, and the All-Star Game have forever linked his comfortable style with the Golden Age of Baseball on the air. His easy drawl and signature “How ‘bout that, sports fans?” were inextricably connected with the pleasure of baseball.

In 1937 Allen obtained his law degree from the University of Alabama, where he had broadcast Crimson Tide football games for the CBS affiliate in Birmingham and, with the recommendation of pioneer broadcaster Ted Husing, he was hired as a CBS staff announcer for $45 a week. When Larry MacPhail broke the New York baseball radio blackout, Allen was hired as the Yankees’ broadcaster for the 1940 season. He and Red Barber, voice of the Dodgers, did the first of their World Series broadcasts together the following year. Allen proved to be an immediate hit with New York fans. He nicknamed Joe DiMaggio “The Yankee Clipper” and christened Phil Rizzuto “Scooter.” In 1948 Allen introduced his famous home run call: “It’s going, going, gone!”

In a move that devastated Allen for years to come, he was fired after the 1964 season. For a decade he was essentially gone from the national scene. But when Major League Baseball introduced its first syndicated series, This Week In Baseball, in 1977, Allen was back for a victory lap. When the Yankees hired him to work their cablecasts in 1985, Sports Illustrated waxed eloquent. “The Voice is back where it belongs…. When you hear it, it’s summer again, a lazy July or August afternoon with sunlight creeping across the infield.”


1 Comment

Dear Mr. Thorn, thanks ever so much for your thumbnail sketches of baseball’s most important players, on the field and off.
Just one little note: in the sketch of Mel Allen, whose voice I’ll never forget, you may have take ellipsis a bit too far. You may want to add a “he” to the second of these two sentences: “In a move that devastated Allen for years to come, he was fired after the 1964 season. For a decade was essentially gone from the national scene.”
Greetings ‘cross the pond from an expat in Heidelberg,
Neil Solomon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: